Diva doin it right

Saturday marked the 20th anniversary of National HIV Testing Day, an annual observance dedicated to promoting more frequent HIV testing and raising awareness of the deadly disease that affects 1.2 million people in the U.S. alone.

Sheryl Lee Ralph, wife of state Sen. Vincent Hughes, is not only an acclaimed actress and best-selling author, but she's also founder of the Divinely Inspired Victoriously Aware Foundation (DIVA), which aims to raise AIDS awareness.

Her foundation is intended to serve as a living memorial to the friends she has lost to HIV/AIDS, and makes a goal of erasing the stigma attached to it, as well as lowering the HIV infection rate in general.

"There I was, making my Broadway debut, and I was in the midst of one of the greatest times in my life, but it was overshadowed by some of the worst when my friends started dropping dead from this awful disease," she told me in a recent phone interview.

"That is how I got involved in trying to help my friends [have] dignity during a time when people found it easy to turn their backs on them."

Ralph discussed the benefits of using the OraQuick In-Home HIV Test, which allows users to be safe and discreet and get results in as little as 20 minutes. She said, this way, easy testing can help so many people get answers early on in the process.

Ralph kicks off Divas Simply Singing, the longest consecutive-running AIDS benefit concert in the country, on Aug. 22. It runs in conjunction with World AIDS Day, and will be held at the Dell Music Center (2400 Strawberry Mansion Drive), in Fairmount Park.

Miley loves local 'Thrift'

Since we're on topic, wrecking-ball straddler Miley Cyrus says that Philly AIDS Thrift, just off South Street, is one of her favorite places to shop.

She said so to Rolling Stone magazine in 2013, when she bought her first "gold" chain for $16.

Now, Philly AIDS Thrift has opened the region's first HIV testing center in a retail space. It happened this past weekend.

June is AIDS Education Month and the new HIV testing center will provide free, drop-in, rapid testing and counseling services for those diagnosed and undiagnosed. A ribbon cutting was held Thursday with Councilman Mark Squilla (within whose district it falls) and AIDS awareness supporters and representatives. Testing will be offered each month from noon to 4 p.m. on the first and third Saturday and Sunday, and on the second and fourth Friday and Saturday at the new Philly AIDS Thrift testing center (710 S. 5th).

Renovation Nation

On Friday, Steve Thomas, author and former host of PBS's "This Old House," was at the grand opening of Habitat for Humanity's ReStore (2318 Washington Ave.) - its nonprofit home-improvement store and donation center in South Philly.

Following the ribbon-cutting of the new 17,000-square-foot facility, Thomas and pals from Habitat held a Family Fun Day on Saturday, complete with live music, food trucks, DIY workshops, raffles and more.

ReStore accepts gently used furniture, home goods, building supplies and appliances, which are then sold at low prices. All proceeds go back into Habitat for Humanity's affordable housing work.


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